Pen and Paint: Which do you mean, the pen or the paint?

Riff threatened to play Minecraft at me if I didn’t review Pen and Paint next.

Actually, that is 100% a lie.  Riff’s computer suffered some kind of crash while he was in the middle of writing up his review of Pen and Paint (a z-code game by Owen Parish), which is damn saddening because I wanted to read his review.  And now it will never happen.Unless the Many Worlds mathematical theory is correct… in which case there is at least one alternate universe out there where I’m reading his review RIGHT NOW!

And then alterna-later, after I’m done reading his review-that-never-happened-here-but-did-there, I will go to my job, which (in that universe) is rescuing beautiful women from sentient corn combines.  And then the beautiful women will be all like “Ooo, Chris, let’s totally make out, because you are truly a hot hunk of manflesh” (and in that universe they are correct, because I have perfect abs there).  But I will be all like “No, that would be a terrible ethical breach, oh fuck it let’s make out.”  Then we would totally make out.  And afterwards I will fly away, cape rustling in the soft updraft caused by burning farm machinery.

Man, I’m always so much cooler in alternate universes.

Let’s get on with this review before I embarrass myself any further.  Riff, I hope you’re happy with what your computer crash hath wrought, and I hold you totally responsible for that paragraph a couple lines up.  Spoilers incoming.

You’re sure you heard something downstairs. You’d better investigate that. You concentrate, and bring light into the room.
Zero seconds into this game, and I’m already a more useful superhero than Aquaman.

Okay, information gleaned from the first room description: I have a wife, we both do magic, she threatens me with paint, and I have no decorating sense.  All solid, useful information.

> x seashell
This used to hold sea sounds, but you changed it to birdsong. It wasn’t easy.

But it *was* easier than programming my TiVo.

Okay, enough goofing off.  Let’s go see what’s making a ruckus downstairs.

Landing
This is a room to pass through.
I can’t stop staring at this sentence.  I don’t know why.  It’s like a moebius strip.  One day in the far future, when I am dying, someone will lean over me and I will be saying “Landing: This is a room to pass through” very softly, over and over, as I go.  That is how religions start.

On to the gallery, where there is presumably a ruckus.

Beneath each picture is a pedestal, and each pedestal bears one of your books. Their position is very significant, and you’ve done all you can to make sure that each pedestal is immovable. Although the books can still be lifted off, that’s necessary.
Oooh, no.  No no no.  I’ve played this game before, and it ended with me trapped forever in the same tiny universe as a portly, middle-aged world-builder who yelled at me for not giving him the page of a book.  We are not going down that road again.

> x books
Each pedestal holds a book. Each book is positioned underneath the related picture.
> x pedestal
You can’t see any such thing.
One of these examine commands is a filthy fucking liar.  Oh, pedestals.  Got it.

> x picture
Which do you mean, the dark mine picture, the forest picture, the pyramid picture or the sky islands picture?

Sure would’ve been nice to have those in the room description.  As it is, I’m going to have to write them on my hand like a grocery list (and right next to them, underlined: “Whatever you do, SPECIFY PICTURE.”).

Man, I have no idea what I’m doing here.  I came down looking for a ruckus, then there was a flash of light. Now there’s no ruckus or light and I have no idea what caused either, and now my character wants to do something involving writing but is lacking in inspiration… Either I missed a small bit of text somewhere, or else I’m in a French amateur film, and I’m not going down THAT road again either.

Eleanor looks around.
Woah, where did she come from?  Apparently my wife is a silent ninja. A silent ninja who is now going batshit crazy over some kind of esoteric damage to her magical paintings.  At least she gave me a clue about what to do.  Thank you, crazy ninja wife!

Let’s look at the grocery list on my hand… forest, mine, pyramid… ooo, sky island.  That sounds neat.  Sky island here we come!

> x sky island
You can’t see any such thing.
Sky island here we… huh?  Oh right, this game has a plural fetish. Sky islands here we come!

> x sky islands
Which do you mean, the sky islands picture or the sky book?
Sky islands here we… oh, for FUCK’s sake.

Anyway, now that THAT’S sorted, sky islands here we come!

> write in sky book
You’ll need a pen first.
Sky islands… goddamn it, I’m never going to see the sky islands, am I.

You know what? Fuck it.  I am now declaring a Player Directed Goal.  The win condition of this game (as of now) is Getting To The Sky Islands.  Everything beyond that will be gravy.  First step: PenQuest.

Wooo!  Got the right room (Study) on the first try.  Which is good, because there are a lot of damn doors in here.  PenQuest is now getting folded into Operation: Take Everything Not Nailed Down.  I don’t want tromp up and down the stairs later when I inevitably need the other things in this room, such as… a “jar of silence”… and an “executive toy”?  What the crap?

> x executive toy
It consists of a series of metal spheres, hanging from cords, attached to a metal frame. You can play with it if you want.
Okay, this is cute.  Bonus point if “play with toy” works as a command and it does the clacky thing with the little metal things.

> play with toy
You lift one sphere, and release it to strike another; a series of symmetrical movements results, accompanying by “ting” noises.
eeeheeheehee!  It does the clacky thing with the little metal things!

Okay, enough of that.  Back to the writing and the crazy-wife mollifying. Except now my character is having inspiration problems.  This is getting really discouraging and I don’t know what to do to make my dude become inspired.  Oh wait, I know EXACTLY what to do!

> play with toy
You lift one sphere, and release it to strike another; a series of symmetrical movements results, accompanying by “ting” noises.
eeeheeheehee!  I feel better now.  Wait, I seem to recall something about “sounds” when I looked at the mine painting.  To the sky islands goblin mine!

> x mine
Which do you mean, the dark mine picture or the goblin book?
Son of a bitch!

Okay, this is actually a neat idea for a mechanic (the whole “inspire self by interacting with objects”), except my own command-trying tendencies and the disambiguation problems in this room are both conspiring against me.  Okay, so, change in plans.  Lemme just whip off a quick note-

-To my dearest Sky Islands:
I can not be with you yet, my sweet darling.  I have to go into another painting first.  No no, do not cry.  It is not you, it is me.  I am unable to write about you without a thing to inspire me, and I do not know where or what that thing is, and this house is ginormous and filled with things.  But do not worry, I will return and see you.  Unless I am killed by goblins.  Smooches, my sweetness.-

-and we’re off!  To the goblin mines! …where I have no idea whatsoever how to proceed past the first frikkin room.  Not quite ready for the walkthrough yet, so back to the house to scrounge for the sky island inspiration-causing-dealie.

Ooo, a battery! Now, how to suck the inspiration juices out of it?

> lick battery
You’re not doing that, although one of your protagionists might consider it.
Battery-licking is a potential theme in my character’s work?  No wonder he’s feeling unsure about his writing skills.

Okay, finally got the damned thing to give me inspiration by dropping it and picking it up repeatedly.  To the sky islands!

> write in sky islands
Which do you mean, the sky islands picture or the sky book?
AAAAAAAAARGHH!!!!

Holy shit, I did it!!  I won the (self-directed in my head) game!! Let’s see what the epilogue is like!

Your Rock
Your rock is a simple one, without luxury. Your stuff lies around you.
You know, I was expecting something a little more… grand, in the way of description, for a bunch of islands floating majestically above the earth.  Perhaps the gorgeous blue sky, all around.  Or the moonlit contours of the ground far below.  Instead, I am apparently a religiously-successful sky buddhist with no view to speak of.

> x stuff
A few things to make your rock more attractive. Brightly coloured pebbles, feathers and some bits from some unusually thing clouds.
Or possibly a magpie. Also, “thing clouds”?  That’s an unusual typo.

Wandering around for a bit… wander wander, take all take all…

Grey Rainbow
The rainbow continue here and incomplete.
That rainbow goddamn.  No matter how many time I tell it complete, it just continue here and incomplete.

Okay, I have managed to pick up a bunch of crap, found a dragon, tried to give him a pot of gold I just found in exchange for a mysterious music box, and found an airship.  Oooh, airship.

> x airship
Which do you mean, the crashed airship or the airship crew?
Sigh.

And now, one chain of unlikely actions later, I am outta here.  No, don’t ask me how I figured out the pot of gold-cannon thing without the walkthrough, because I don’t know myself.  It was just the only thing left to try.

Time to have trouble disambiguating another painting/book pair!

Let’s try the forest.

Dwarven Tent
Dwarven tents are short and stout. They’re also fairly resilient.
Dwarven tents have at least two whole things in common with teapots!  Tell your friends!

Okay, at first I thought this puzzle (listen to birds, follow their directions to escape maze) was really neat.  And then the birds got stuck in a 20 GOTO 10 loop, sending me north and then south repeatedly (about 15 times).  Either this is a bug, or else the birds are liars.  The walkthrough is also no help, since it lists directions that have no relation to where I am in this clusterfuck of gooseberry bushes and lying asshole birds.  In any case, this is the exact point that I would quit playing this game and never come back, if I wasn’t trying to see as much as possible in the name of journalistic integrity.  And exiting/entering the book doesn’t fix it.

Let’s go check out the pyramid, just for the sake of completeness.

> x treasures
Glittering gold, jewels of many colours, expertly made statuettes, and rare dweezils.
One of these things is not like the other.

Okay, fine, I give up.  Have no idea what to do here either.  According to the walkthrough, what I needed to do was “feel shadows” (never would have got it) and then listen at the end (also never would have guessed “listen” as the correct verb there).  This game is as done as it’s getting.

Part Deux: The Rundown

Lemme say something here: very few games are actually inherently broken.  Most of ’em, it’s some combination of clumsy writing and usability issues. And this is one of those games where that bad really gets in the way of the good.  So I’m going to talk about the problems first.

Part Deux-Point-Un: Le Mal

Disambiguation.  This game has serious disambiguation issues.    I listed a couple above, but stumbled across a bunch of others.  Mostly this is just needless; if you think about it, there’s no reason to call something a “desk chair” when there’s also a desk but no other chair in the room, and said chair is scenery.  Just call it a “chair”.  Alternately if you want to catch that one doofus player who insists on typing “desk chair”, a simple fix in I7 is to just say “Understand “desk chair” as the chair.”, which will solve most of that kind of thing.  In most cases with two similarly-named objects, it will be clear which one is the “primary” for any given word.

It gets more complicated for the books/pictures.  Not sure what could have been a clean fix there, maybe moving each book/picture to it’s own little alcove or something.  Or giving the books slightly different names from the pictures and applying some disambiguation rules (yeah, I know disambiguation rules suck, but they’re really necessary in cases like this).  Sure, a case could be made that players like me are at fault for not typing “book” or “picture”, but the problem with that is, when you’re trying to get into a game, you tend to start typing faster and referring to things by the first descriptor.

In a couple of other places, synonymous commands didn’t work properly (“put rubble in pit” doesn’t work, but “put chunk in hole” does, despite the fact that neither thing is referred to as “chunk” nor “hole” anywhere else, “feel shadows” but not “search shadows”), or were badly clued (the “listen” command to finish the pyramid, for instance).  The “listen” command… I understand after everything else that there was a musical theme to whatever was infesting the paintings, but this needed to be clued better and earlier.  Also, I’m pretty sure the way the pot of gold is hidden is going to piss off *somebody*, and not in a good way.

The description quality was seriously spotty in places, which was disappointing.  The Sky Islands felt unfinished compared to the house or forest, for instance.  So were large parts of the pyramid, which amounted to a twisty little maze due to the lack of description.  This was a shame.  Given the theme the author was going for, you could have gotten a very cool effect from starting off the descriptions sparse in the beginning areas purposefully, and then getting more and more rich as it went on (to simulate the writer getting his stride back or similar).  Or, screw that, just having a higher density of rich text in the “magical” worlds.  Typos.  Also many typos.  Running the code through a spell-checker is possibly in order.

Also, some of the early game in general could have been better clued, and I would have liked to interact with my character’s wife a bit more.  There needed to be more in the books to propel the reader forward, make ’em curious about what was going on with the music.

Basically, the game felt like it needed a good deal more work; the various mechanical issues need fixing and the writing needs some reworking and fleshing out.  But I *don’t* think it was inherently broken, except for that blasted forest maze, which I’m pretty sure *was* broken.  On to the good stuff.

Part Duex-Point-Duex: Le Bien

The premise and theme had serious promise. Conflicting magical art styles (you the writer, wife the artist, whoever that other music person was), walking into weird magical worlds… cool.  And frankly, a bad premise is something which is a lot harder to fix than disambiguation.  I can definitely see where the author was going and definitely wanted to interact with that world.  I mean, I basically said as much in the playthrough, repeatedly: I want to get to this place, I really do.  I just wish I could’ve interacted more smoothly and that the author had gone a bit farther with it.

I also really liked the little magical touches in the house, the little things like the battery being weird and whatnot, or the seashell.  And like I said, game gets an extra point for having those little clacky balls and having them respond to the obvious clued command.  It’s the simple things, really.

And I did like the base idea of doing a thing to get psyched about walking into a magical thing, too.  Just soured a bit from fighting with the parser.

If the author ends up putting some work into fixing the usability issues (and hopefully fluffing out/reworking the text some), I’d definitely take another stab at it.

EDIT: It has come to my attention that there is a bug of some kind or other where the flowers (which you supposedly need to get into the Sky painting) don’t show up in the room description.  While that is certainly a heinous mistake, I got into the Sky painting just fine by simply dropping and picking up the battery twice.  Same with the other paintings.  So now I’m wondering if that was a bug (being able to do the same thing twice).  I’m also wondering if I’m the only person who figured that out.

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9 Responses to “Pen and Paint: Which do you mean, the pen or the paint?”

  1. I just wanted to say that “corn combines” is probably the mathematically funniest plural noun that could have occupied that space in any universe.

  2. I also got into the sky islands by picking up the battery twice. I got into the other paintings by doing what I was supposed to, I think.

  3. I also entered the sky painting by using the battery twice, and though some have called this a bug, I think it’s intentional. Here’s my reasoning: I entered the pyramid by using the dust twice, and found a strange machine at the end. Only after using the silence along with the dust did the machine go away so I could listen to silence.

  4. when using desk chairs, i would always prefer to use wood instead of plastic desk chairs “;,

  5. `:* I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information -,-

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